Thursday, November 29, 2012

"what is she?"

Since K's birth, we've gotten a fair amount of questions about her race. I don't post too many pictures of her on this blog for privacy purposes, but you may or may not have noticed her slight tan in previous photos. By contrast, I am very fair-skinned, so I think people tend to notice that she looks different more with me than with Joey, who has dark hair, dark eyes, and darker skin like K.

It doesn't bother me when people we know ask about her ethnic background, but in most cases, it hasn't been people we know who ask. It's been strangers. And it's almost always a question that isn't quite phrased right. (Such as, "what is she?")

I've noticed plenty of children over the years who do not look like their parents. In fact, I was one of those children. My brother and I were both born with red hair and fair skin. Our parents, on the other hand, had dark hair and darker skin. I'm sure they got plenty sideways glances when we were younger.

But I don't recall ever going up to families and asking them why their children look different from them, or having others approach me about why I look different from my parents. It seems completely inappropriate, right? Or am I alone in thinking this? I mean, I knew that this was something we would likely encounter adopting a biracial child. I guess I just didn't realize how often we would get comments – or the ways in which they would be worded.

Up until recently, I've been answering these questions with a straightforward, honest answer: she's half white, and half Hispanic. However, the more I answered this question with the truth, the more irritated I grew. WHY did they need to know? And, by giving these people an answer, am I letting them know that this type of behavior is okay? Because it's not okay! I don't go up to strangers and ask them about the color of their skin.

So, I started getting snarky. I've said things like "she's a baby" or "she's a princess!" when people ask what she is. I've thought about asking them a deeply personal question in response. ("Did you have sex with your husband last night? Oh, is that too much? If you don't want to answer a personal question, don't ask one!")

Yet, this is just as ineffective as answering the question. It's not serving anyone except for my anger. It's not teaching them anything except for "wow, that lady is a bitch." As K gets older, she'll begin to notice how I'm answering this question. I don't want her to grow up and resort to anger or sarcasm when people ask her questions that she isn't comfortable answering.

The truth is, it's a far more loaded question for K than people think. It isn't just about the color of her skin. It's about part of her background that we will never be able to share with her because we just don't have the information. It will always be this blank page in her story that we can't fill in for her, and that hurts my heart. I would love nothing more than for her to be able to celebrate who she is – her culture – but it's a piece of information we simply don't know.

Therefore, from this point forward, I've decided to be honest with strangers – truly honest. I will tell them that it's not appropriate to ask such a personal question. Because it's not. As K grows up, we will of course share her story with her, but we will also emphasize that this is her story. She can choose to share, or not share, with others based on her comfort level. This should be her decision, and not anyone else's. It's her personal journey.

And we'll teach her to always be respectful of other's personal stories - to understand that while she may choose to share her story, others may not.

Honestly, I wish I didn't have to teach her about respect and personal privacy. I wish I didn't have to help her navigate issues having to do with race. Instead, I wish people could just see the beautiful person that she is without focusing on the color of her skin.

29 comments:

aryanhwy said...

I'm not in your position, and probably won't ever be, but I have to admit, the first answer that would cross my mind to the question "what is she?" is "she's my daughter".

S said...

I would imagine that this is one of the challenges of raising a child who is biracial, adopted or not. One of my closest friends is half white/Jewish and half Black, and you should hear some of the comments she's heard over the years directed to her, her parents, and now her children (her husband is white).

Have you read the blog Rage Against the Minivan? The writer is white and has two biological children (fair-skinned and blonde) and two adopted children who are Black, and she wrote a post recently about the difficulties that presents with others' questions/curiosity.

Katie said...

I've answered, "She's my daughter," as well.

I'll have to check out that blog, S. Thank you for sharing!

Erica said...

I know all too well the feeling of these type of questions. I am half white (german) and half korean. I have light colored skin, brown eyes and brown hair like my mother (expect her skin is more of an olive color). My father is fair skinned, blue eyes and light brown hair. My husband is Jamaican. He has dark skin, dark eyes and dark hair. Our twins on the other hand are completely different. MJ is fair skinned (so fair he burns easily and you can see vains under his skin from across the room) he has blueish greenish eyes and very light brown hair. As a matter of fact for the first 18 mths of his life his hair was so white blond it looked like he barely had any in photos. D is completely opposite. He looks like he has a light tan, he had brown eyes and dark brown (almost black) hair. His hair is just like my mothers. They both have very curly hair as well. MJ is a spitting image of Hubs. His facial characteristic throws people off. D on the other had is a spitting image of my father.

We do get looks and questions out and about. We used to get the same question as you all the time. I found it came more from one race over another. I used to answer the "what are they" question with "my sons. my miracles. My world".

One would think that with it being 2012 these questions would not exists but sadly it still does.

Emily said...

While not an issue of race, I get inappropriate questions about my children all the time. When people see me out with my triplets, one of the questions I get most is "Are they natural?" While I know what the asker is really wanting to know, my first response is always, "Well, they aren't made out of plastic if that's what you're asking."

I know they referring to how they were conceived, so I always want to ask the asker if they realize that they are essentially asking about my sex life. It seems that so many people these says have no concept of what is appropriate and what is not.

Marybeth said...

I also like the "she's my daughter" answer. I don't like that people are like this, but sadly I'm pretty sure it's not going to change any time soon. I think you already know, but one of my nephews is a quarter black while his 2 other (half) brothers do not have a racial mix. He honestly looks Samoan now that he's 17 and tall & built. But I HATE that people not only assume, but voice things like "is he a friend of the family?" when we're all together. And not because it bothers us, but I know it bothers HIM. It's been difficult for him to know that just the color of his skin & the texture of his hair have to be things to set him apart from his brothers and the rest of the family. I am so happy that you have K, but because of what I have seen happen with my nephew I don't think I could ever adopt a multi-racial child. I don't think I have enough control and grace like you do not to punch a person or shield my child all together from the cruel world of racial hate. I'm kind of rambling, but I do want to say that I look to you as an inspiration of what I don't feel is in me. You are already such an amazing mom to K and I hope that as she grows up the world will ease on the inappropriate "what is she?" comments!

Rebecca said...

People don't seem to have a filter. We get a lot of the 'are they natural' about the twins or the slightly less obnoxious 'do twins run in your family?' which has the same ultimate goal if finding out if we used fertility treatments. No idea why people think it is appropriate conversation.

Asking 'what is she' is pretty ridiculous.

Becky said...

I tend to respond, "why do you ask?". Sometimes they have a reasonable real question, but asked it in poorly worded way. Mostly, though, it gives them a minute to realize how inappropriate the question is. And then I try to extricate myself from their presence as soon as possible.

Jaclyn said...

After realizing how many comments people must get, I always make a point to tell children who appear to be a different race from their parent how cute they are. I figure its a generic compliment to help balance out the insensitive comments they must get all the time. I may wonder if that is the biological mom or if the child is adopted, but it really isn't any of my business and that family certainly shouldn't have to answer that question 10,000 times a day.

Jen said...

What is she??! Oh my lord. I love the "why do you ask?" response.

People ask me "were you expecting twins?". Um...... Yes, we had sex at Twin-o'clock on Twin Day of my cycle, so we were pretty sure there were going to be two babies in there.

W T F

AnotherDreamer said...

My little brother is bi-racial, his mother is African American but we share a biological father (he's 100% German). Anyway, people never expect my little brother to look like he does, whether it's someone we've known for awhile or a stranger on the street. I think I've only ever had one person in my entire person who met him and told me he looks a lot like me, and he does share features (he looks just like my dad), but most of the time people are so hung up on how he's different they don't even see how we're the same.

We have a lot of biracial family members, and everyone has their own issues they run into. None of them are adopted (people sometimes ask if they are though), and I realize that's a completely different issue, but I just wanted to say it's hard to deal with sometimes and unfortunately inevitable. I think you're doing well handling it though. I like the "She's my daughter," response, or educating them that it's NOT an appropriate question!

I also like the "Why do you ask?" They would stop some in their tracks. Some people use it to broach the adoption subject too though, I had a professor ask that about my little brother. My professor had adopted all his children, so he was just trying to share. Although, with most strangers I'd imagine that's not the case.

missohkay said...

This is a great post! (and I second the idea in the comment above that you go read Rage Against the Minivan, it's one of my fave adoption blogs). I don't think it's inappropriate to sometimes answer inappropriate questions with sarcasm - she may need every tool in her toolbox to deal with these issues down the line. It's a delicate dance though, for sure. I always try to keep in mind the suggestion of countering with, "Why do you ask?" to put them on the spot first. Miss E has blanks in her past as well, so she and Lady K can lean on each other when they get bigger :) It's hard to know whether it will just devastate her, she'll be totally fine with it, or something in the middle. Good thing I have a long time to figure out how to help!

Amanda said...

People never cease to amaze me with their stupidity. I would probably look at them like they were the dumbest person on the planet and walk away, but the "She's my daughter" answer other's said is pretty great, too. Or say, "I assume you meant 'What a beautiful baby! What's her name?' Thank you, it's ---".

readingeachpage.blogspot.com

MrsMann said...

She is beautiful! That is all she is.

KC said...

I love what Becky said "why do you ask?", it puts people on the spot and makes them examine their intentions. My guess is they won't anwer how they should "because I am rude and nosy".

Just the Tip said...

I just assume that they are adopted, but I have two special needs children and tend to think outside the box, unlike the majority of people, so it seems.

You are right in realizing this soon that you have to be careful with how you answer the questions.

P has significant urology issues, and she just turned 3, I have very little filter/patience left for the general public but I am really having to make an effort so that she doesn't see me get defensive and think negatively of herself because of someones insensitive ass question/comment.

Hugs.

And she is your daughter, period.

Denver Laura said...

When I'm feeling snarky I answer, "she's half caucasian."

I also get the whole, "where is she from?" as if all non-white adopted kids are from international adoptions.

babywithatwist said...

I like the responses like "she's my daughter," "she's our sweet girl," or something like that. I can't imagine feeling that it was acceptable to inquire openly - especially to someone I didn't know -about their own or their child's race or ethnicity. Blows my mind. Like you, I am fair and have red hair and look very different from my parents.

Secret Sloper said...

I'm really astounded that people are not only so tactless but also so nosy and intrusive. I never ask strangers questions about their lives (their clothes, sure, sometimes. You got to track down a great pair of boots when you see one). Maybe it's a big city thing? But I know people here with twins or multiracial or adopted children get just as many stupid questions. I'm sad at the total lack of civility people have around the issues of race and family building, and I wonder where it came from?

someday-soon said...

You're right, it's totally inappropriate for people to ask that. It's so hard to come up with an answer that both educates people and as K grows doesn't make her feel like it's something to hide. I like Becky's idea of responding with a questions like "Why do you ask?". It gives you some insight and also gives you some additional time to decide how to respond =)

Allison said...

That is a bit rude. A good friend has a half Caucasian/half Korean adopted little girl and people ask ALL the time.

I get lots of questions about my reproductive history with triplets. It blows my mind what people think is their business.

makingmonkeysoup.com said...

Many times, I have been asked, "Where is she from?" Which is really irritating, when she is from our state, only an hour and a half away from where we live.

People always assume that Mea is from another country. I only get these questions when it's her and I out alone. My husband is black, so I think people assume she is our biological child when we are all out together.

It's tough, I agree with the other's. "My daughter" is a great answer to this question.

Emily said...

I can see why this frustrates you. K's race shouldn't even be an issue to anybody, it's a shame that in 2012 some people are unable to focus on other things rather than just race!
My husband is half Korean, quarter Native American and quarter African American. I'm white. I'm sure we'll get lots of questions about the race of our baby too when they're born. This post has given me something to think about!

Sunflower said...

People are nosy and its very inappropriate to ask questions like that. My baby will be a differnt looking than me based on my donor selection, and I am getting responses ready in my head for such questions. My first response to "what is she?" would be "does it matter?" - lol. You bring up a good point though about contianing scarcasm so the child does not feel odd about it. Good post!

Krissi McVicker said...

I want to say that I understand the rudeness. I am a quarter African American and I get all the time, "Oh my you're so tan!" in the winter followed by the questions of what race am I. It isn't polite at all.
I also wanted to congratulate you on your Best blog award!
I would love to share your infertility success story on my blog as I am trying to revamp the postings and haven't had one in a long while. Let me know if you'd be interested.
Enjoy your holiday with your little one. It really does go so fast but each stage is a blessing.

Logical Libby said...

We actually would get questions like "How dark are her parents," which would just make me stare at people like they were from space. Then I would smile like I didn't understand them and walk off.

It worked better than letting out the rage.

Robin said...

Sorry I'm responding to this post half a year later, but I just stumbled across your blog and I've been working my way through your archives. Anyway, this essay (link at the end) is the best resource I've ever come across on dealing with transracial kids and adoption, and how to answer racist questions about their origins. It addresses exactly what you're talking about, how she's going to be watching your responses as she grows for how to deal with it herself. :) http://www.nacac.org/adoptalk/TransAdoption.html

Robin said...

Sorry I'm responding to this post half a year later, but I just stumbled across your blog and I've been working my way through your archives. Anyway, this essay (link at the end) is the best resource I've ever come across on dealing with transracial kids and adoption, and how to answer racist questions about their origins. It addresses exactly what you're talking about, how she's going to be watching your responses as she grows for how to deal with it herself. :) http://www.nacac.org/adoptalk/TransAdoption.html

Wen said...

THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU for writing this! My hubs and I just adopted our daughter (4 months old) and she is full Hispanic but from Pennsylvania, the questions I get are proposterous! The one most often is "where is she from/where did you get her", I usually just laugh it off and say Pennsylvania because that makes them realize, hey, I'm an idiot.... but as time is going on it is getting less and less "funny" to me...